Match of the Day Top 10 podcast – Greatest unsung Premier League heroes

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November 25, 2021
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    Nicky Butt, Tim Sherwood, James Milner, Gareth BarryNicky Butt, Tim Sherwood, James Milner, Gareth Barry are among those in the mix for greatest unsung Premier League hero

    The Premier League has had plenty of lauded superstars in its 29 years, but what about those who graft away to less recognition, the under-the-radar legends, the unsung heroes?

    That's the latest topic discussed by Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer and Micah Richards on the Match of the Day Top 10 podcast.

    So, let's give some of these players their due.

    To hear how they made their final selections, make sure you listen to the podcast on BBC Sounds and you can rank yours at the bottom of the page too.

    • Listen to Match of the Day Top 10: Greatest unsung Premier League heroes

    N'Golo Kante (Shearer: 3rd, Richards: 10th)

    N'Golo Kante in action for Chelsea

    The Frenchman has made the defensive midfield position his own since moving to the Premier League to join Leicester from Caen in 2015. He was a vital cog in the Foxes remarkable title win in his first season – a feat he repeated the next season after joining Chelsea. He also has four FA Cups, a Europa League and Champions League win under his belt from his time at Stamford Bridge, all of which he has contributed to in typically brilliant, understated fashion.

    Richards: Kante is not unsung, he is sung all he way from the terraces. He shouldn't be in the list. Whenever someone mentions Chelsea, he is sung by everybody. If you ask who is Chelsea's best player? You will say Kante. He is top notch

    Shearer: I would agree with everything you have said. But he is on the list. The only reason he is not at the top is because of the number of appearances, 196. Ability wise he is the best on the list. He has practically won the lot – the Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup and the World Cup.

    Lineker: You can see why he is put in the list in a way – he is quiet, and so modest and shy and smiles all the time. He should be in the top 10 super heroes. He is the best player on this list, but that is a different question. He'd improve any team on the planet, wouldn't he?

    Tim Cahill (Shearer: 10th, Richards: 5th)

    Tim Cahill in action for Everton

    Australian Cahill was a snip for Everton when they bought him from Millwall for just £1.5m in 2004. A highly-efficient central-midfielder, Cahill's biggest weapon was his aerial ability, coupled with an innate ability to time runs into the box. It helped him amass 56 goals in 226 Premier League appearances, some of which came during stints as a makeshift centre forward.

    Shearer: Only £1.5m from Millwall. He did a very good job, certainly more than what was expected of him.

    Richards: He always used to score against me. He wasn't that tall, but the timing of his headers was just brilliant. When you mention top, top strikers, he's not at that level. But what he did for an improving Everton, he's certainly an unsung hero.

    Branislav Ivanovic (Shearer: 7th. Richards: 7th)

    Branislav Ivanovic in action for Chelsea

    At 6ft 1in, built like a brick outhouse and never afraid to get stuck in, it was hard to miss Ivanovic on a football field. But arguably his most important quality was his consistency of performance, which meant that the right side of Chelsea's defence was largely taken care of for numerous seasons. He made 261 appearances for the Blues, winning the title three times. He had a short spell at West Brom last season, but the less said about that the better.

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    Richards: He was top-notch. He could do anything, three at the back, four at the back. He could go forward. He had a tough mentality and was strong as well.

    You don't think of Ivanovic when you think of Chelsea, there were so many others. He was tough, dependable. People think he was just big and strong, but he was good technically.

    Shearer: He was reliable. That's a common theme. Every manager craves someone that's reliable. It's brilliant to have.

    Robbie Keane (Shearer: 7th. Richards: 7th)

    Robbie Keane celebrates a goal for Tottenham

    As a centre forward, Keane is something of an oddity on this list. But the Irishman so often acted as the efficient foil to a more lauded front man during his time with numerous clubs, including Leeds, Tottenham and Liverpool. Most of his career was spent with Spurs, for whom he scored 91 goals in 238 Premier League appearances. The only trophy he had to show for that was the 2007-08 League Cup.

    Richards: I think Jermain Defoe got more credit than Robbie Keane. When he went to Inter Milan and he was only young there and didn't play much. He was also at Leeds and did well there – he had some great transfer moves. I played against Robbie Keane and I was never scared of playing against him, there was no fear factor.

    Lineker: I think Defoe could on the list, but I don't think strikers should ever be on a list like this. We get all the glory, don't; we? You score the winning goal you get the headlines.

    Shearer: That is why I have strikers 10 and nine on here.

    Ray Parlour (Shearer: 5th, Richards: 8th)

    Ray Parlour scores the opening goal in the 2002 FA Cup final

    Not as dominating as Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit, not as quick as Marc Overmars or as skilful as Robert Pires, Ray Parlour was nevertheless vital to Arsenal in the 1990s and early 2000s. He would make 379 Premier League appearances in total, the majority for the Gunners, chipping in with vital goals and continual movement and drive. Three Premier League titles and four FA Cups are a testimony to his ability. Post-Arsenal, he had stints with Middlesbrough and Hull.

    Richards: He was technically outstanding, the way he used to move. What did they call him? The Romford Pele. He was just a geezer, he had a bit about him and was a lovely footballer. He just didn't get the credit. He was better than what people gave him credit for and played in some great teams. When I think Arsenal, you mention the great players first and then you mention Ray Parlour.

    Gareth Barry (Shearer: 8th, Richards: 2nd)

    Gareth Barry in action for Manchester City

    Over a record 653 appearances, Barry was as consistent and dependable as it comes in defence or midfield. A rock at first club Aston Villa, where he would spend 11 years, he finally got himself some medals after joining Manchester City, where he played a big role in their first Premier League title win in 2011-12. He continued to excel at Everton and then at West Brom, playing well into his late 30s.

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    Shearer: I know Gareth won the Premier League at City and 653 appearances speaks for itself – he was Mr Reliable, Mr Dependable. But there was nothing spectacular about him. He just went out and did a job every single week. I look at the others on the list and they have probably won more.

    Richards: I'd go against that in terms of spectacular. Garth Barry would receive the ball anywhere on the pitch and other player would shy away from the ball. When you talk about Man City winning the league you talk of Silva, Aguero, Tevez and Kompany. But Gareth Barry was the missing piece into getting to that level.

    Tim Sherwood (Shearer: 6th, Richards: 4th)

    Tim Sherwood in action for Blackburn

    Midfielder Sherwood cut his teeth at Watford and Norwich, but his career would really take off after joining upwardly mobile Blackburn in 1992 – the year the Premier League began. Alongside David Batty – another great unsung hero – he would form a title-winning central-midfield in 1994-95. He made 246 Premier League appearances for Rovers before joining Tottenham, for whom he would later become manager.

    Shearer: I played with Tim Sherwood and know how good he was, and that's why I've probably got him higher than Gareth.

    Lineker: Do you think Tim Sherwood was a better player than Gareth Barry?

    Shearer: When I played with him, he was outstanding. So yes. He was brilliant, our captain when we won the Premier League. He probably didn't get the credit he deserved, because it was myself and Sutton with the goals. Maybe Colin Hendry and Tim Flowers got a lot of credit for the way he played.

    Richards: We called him chocolate at Villa. He loved himself. I loved him, he was just a great manager to work for in terms of the personal side. As a man manger, he was the best. He was great, he was honest.

    Nicky Butt (Shearer: 4th, Richards: 6th)

    Nicky Butt in action for Manchester United

    Arguably the least heralded member of the Class of 92, Butt was nevertheless vital to the success of Manchester United from the mid-90s through the early 2000s. Often seen as Roy Keane's understudy, Butt actually made 270 Premier League appearances for the most successful side of the time, chipping in with 21 goals. He would add another 134 games to his tally during a stint at Newcastle before a short spell at Birmingham and in China.

    Lineker: He was part of the Class of 92. I guess emerging as part of that group of players when some of them were clearly super stars is why he would have been unsung. But he was a terrific midfielder.

    Shearer: He was all over the park. He was really tough and hard to play against. And he won a lot. That's why I have him at four.

    Michael Carrick (Shearer: 2nd, Richards: 3rd)

    Michael Carrick (right) in action for Manchester United

    Another former Manchester United central midfielder who went about his job in quietly brilliant fashion. Not shy of a tackle, it was Carrick's vision and passing that set him apart. He began at West Ham before moving to Tottenham, but it was at Old Trafford where he truly flourished. He made 316 league appearances for the Red Devils, during which he won the Premier League five times, the FA Cup and Champions League. He is now interim manager at United folloiwng the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

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    Shearer: He was a wonderful player. He was a really good all-round midfielder.

    Lineker: Should he have player more games for England?

    Richards: Yes. Definitely without a doubt. If Carrick had played in the Spanish side he would have been great. But he played for England and everyone was scared to get on the ball because they didn't want to be in the News of the World getting four out of 10 on the Sunday after Saturday's game.

    Shearer: I thought he should have got a lot more. I was a big fan of his. Handing the ball in difficult situations, he was one of the best at that.

    James Milner (Shearer: 1st, Richards: 1st)

    James Milner in action for Liverpool

    The ultimate unsung hero. It wasn't always the case, though. Milner shot on to the scene with Leeds as a 16-year-old, briefly becoming the youngest goalscorer in Premier League history. Then a skilful winger, he subsequently developed into a central midfielder over time with Newcastle, Aston Villa and Manchester City. He would pick up two league title winners medals with the latter. Now, at Liverpool (with whom he has won another league title and the Champions League), he is a true utility man, willing and able to play pretty much wherever Jurgen Klopp needs him, all with the minimum of fuss.

    Richards: He goes to Liverpool and wins the league and the Champions League after being deemed not good enough for Man City, that is ridiculous. What a guy he is.

    Lineker: I actually apologised to him. I tweeted a few years ago along the lines of "I'm not sure what James Milner is" because of all the different positions he played. I was wrong because what he is is an unbelievable professional who will play anywhere for you. He has been brilliantly consistent.

    Shearer: I was at Newcastle with him when he was a youngster. He had the same attitude then as he does now, which is why he has achieved what he has in the game. He is a manager's dream. he will probably never ever be late, he would be first and last off the training ground. Whenever you put him on the pitch, in whatever position, he would do a job for you. He would be a seven out of 10 at right back, right wing, central midfielder, wherever you asked him to play. He would never moan, so he is always great to have in the dressing room. It wouldn't surprise me if he ended up with a coaching role with Liverpool. If he chooses to go down that route then Liverpool will do well.

    Top 10 'unsung heroes'

    Pick the order you would rank these Premier League 'unsung heroes' in.

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    November 25, 2021
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